Living in the Streams: Mastering the Streaming Music Experience

I remember the day I received the e-mail that Spotify was now available in the U.S. It was 2011 & I didn’t even know what it was to be honest. I must’ve submitted my e-mail for the beta testing sometime doing typical day-to-day research. Either way, once I clicked on the link & downloaded the app, my world from that day forward was forever changed.

When I think about it long and hard, I’ve always been somewhat of a music junkie. It started at around 8 years old when my dad gave me a few of his oldies cassette tapes. My parents had bought me a personal stereo for my bedroom fairly early in my childhood so I was offered the opportunity to open my world up, tuning into the sounds of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Richie Valens, & other pop music icons of the 50’s. From that point on, it was Prince, Boyz II Men, Michael Jackson, Aerosmith, Guns ’n’ Roses and eventually 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G, Coolio, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Snoop Dogg, etc. Safe to say, it was the knack for artistic expression that spoke to me in ways conventional social interaction couldn’t.

By the time I hit high school I had amassed a personal collection of 200+ Cd’s, with the vast majority of them being hip-hop. From Jay-Z & Nas, to Twista and every No Limit Records release between 1998-2000; Rap had taken a stronghold of my budding adolescent mind & equipped me with the confidence and resilience to steer through a troubling & tumultuous teenage experience. As time passed & I got older, my connection to the music only deepened, eventually growing into an artist myself, embellishing in a world that had welcomed me with open arms and no resistance; offering me a means to escape my problems.

Though we all take full advantage of the vast uses of technology, rarely do we take a moment to reflect on how it has become so impactful on our lives, that its changed our pattern of behavior & how we communicate with one another. High-speed wireless internet & smart phone technology have now proven to be essential aspects of our every day human experience. With that influence over our lives & how we communicate, it was only a matter of time before it took control of entertainment; shifting focus from cable television and FM radio to streaming Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Pandora, Spotify and Apple Music.

While I’ll always be nostalgic to the days when Compact Discs served as more than just a physical storage device for music, but also piece of collective memorabilia for fans; I can say streaming has evolved music consumption in ways my 17 year old self could never had imagined nor cognitively prepared myself for.  How I listen to music today has allowed me to use it in a manner that would inspire the average radio listener to see the world not from the ground up, but from the sky to the heavens, as it was meant to be seen. That’s why I’m writing these words as we speak.  That’s why this entire brand was created out of nothing. Its why tomorrow, you may realize you never need radio again. Which couldn’t be more proof of just how important technology has become for creative nourishment & freedom.

Napster, Itunes, Pandora & all internet radio may have been the gateway to lead us to this promised land of diversity and equal opportunity of artistry, but it was Spotify that fully transitioned us to the next turning point of the millennium; giving us full authority over our music & the chance to turn off FM radio frequencies, for some quite possibly forever. From Discover pages, mood themed playlists, offline listening capabilities & a platform open to all artists major & independent alike, Spotify was the first in what has now become a normal means of consuming music for an entire generation; and crossing over to other generations at steadily increasing rates. While Spotify maybe the pioneer of the modern day streaming music era, we now have a vast multitude of choices for services of streaming music. While some critics may feel this is becoming an inconvenient nuisance for music consumers, I think its opened the doors for our creative culture to spread its wings by venturing into capitalism with a more optimistic approach to be potentially financially independent as a result of their creative endeavors. More platforms means more means of garnering a larger audience. But that conversation will be saved for another post, another day.

Streaming music isn’t’ just about music mobility and playback. Its about a personal freedom as a listener to find new artists instantaneously and have control over what music is being played during all hours of the day, in any circumstance. Playlist curators have now fancied themselves the digital DJ’s of today; myself & my brand being included in that collective. Its through taste-making and social media that artists are now heard; not DJ’s and club spins any longer. The DJ’s now get their music from us fans and enthusiasts. We are at the helm of a creative revolution and Spotify, Apple Music, and Soundcloud are helping all of us to lead the charge into tomorrow’s music industry.

Regardless of critics’ claims that we have too many streaming services, I beg to differ. I use 3 different streaming platforms myself; 5 if you include YouTube & official apps like Datpiff or AudioMack. Spotify gives me a means to stream more music from undiscovered/independent artists as well as multiple playlists for activity-themed music for writing, reading and research. Apple Music is my Go-To for everything popular & notable. Any rising artist just discovered in the past year more than likely has a track placed in one of my many personal playlists. I’m also using Apple Music to rebuild and organize much of the music which I bought the CD’s of when I was younger. Many of my playlists reintroduce me to all the music I frequently played as a child, no genre excluded. Soundcloud also delivers more undiscovered talent tough suggested tracks as well as an easy and convenient introduction to a new artists’ catalogue. Its become the best platform for mixtape cuts. I also use Soundcloud to curate most of the playlists published to this site to be shared with my readers. Every playlist has a purpose. That purpose helps me train my ear to better evolve as both an artist and professional curator in order to contemplate the trends of tomorrow.

Though the idea of mixtape has been around as long as cassette tapes have, the internet and streaming music have taken it beyond the clutches of label executives and corporate America. Though the billion dollar, multi-national corporations may have the biggest stake in streaming music, its uses and power are in the hands of the listeners/subscribers. With the power of the playlist, I’m my own DJ. I can let Spotify or Apple Music’s algorithms do the job for me, but I decide if I wanna listen to a song or skip to something fresh. Ultimately though, nobody is force-feeding me music I’m sick of listening to, which is what is continually leading to Radio’s downfall & truth be told, I’m really not gonna miss it one bit.

While the business model still needs quite a bit of tweaking for music streaming companies, labels, artists, and songwriters to all benefit more equally, its safe to say the fans right now are “winning” at the moment. Truth be told it was long overdue for the industry to shift gears after spending quite some time as victims of online piracy. While there’s no telling where future will lead for music as a commercial enterprise, at the moment it seems the streaming era has blessed us with the opportunity to play and share freely as listeners are finally at the helm of an evolutionary frontier.

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